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Lake County Judge issues preliminary injunction against Ohio Dept. of Health for keeping gyms closed

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Posted at 12:16 PM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 19:24:36-04

PAINESVILLE, Ohio — Lake County Court of Common Pleas Judge Eugene A. Lucci issued a preliminary injunction against Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton and the Lake County General Health District that says they violated the constitutional rights of Ohioans by forcing gyms to stay closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, nearly three dozen gyms filed a lawsuit that claims Acton and the county’s general health district violated gym owners' constitutional rights by shuttering fitness centers.

RELATED: 35 independent gyms sue Ohio's health director over closures, reopening plans

The gyms, represented by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, sought a judgment to reopen immediately after the state’s plans left out guidance for independent fitness centers. Ohio ordered gyms closed March 15.

The ruling enjoins police agencies, prosecutors and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office from “imposing or enforcing penalties solely for non-compliance with the director’s order” against the 35 businesses listed in the lawsuit, as long as those businesses “operate in compliance with all applicable safety regulations, whether those are in the state’s order, the state’s supplemental guidelines governing businesses like those of the plaintiffs in this case, or the Lake County General health District.”

Aim Performance Training in Mentor is one of the gyms listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit. Owners Alex Dudas and Tim Dragmen say they say they couldn't be happier with the ruling.

“We’re just ready to work. We didn’t get money when we were off and our trainers we were mostly concerned with, and now we can get going and that’s the biggest thing," Dudas said.

“Its great that our voice was heard and all of the other gyms that were in on this. Its a relief that everything we were going through was heard and worked out for us," Dragmen said.

Last week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that gyms and fitness centers would be among the businesses allowed to reopen on May 26.

RELATED: Gyms, pools, campgrounds, BMVs, horse racing, some sports given reopening dates in Ohio

On Tuesday, DeWine replaced the Stay Safe Ohio order with an urgent health advisory called "Ohioans Protecting Ohioans." The following is a list of highlights from the new advisory:

  • Social distancing to avoid overwhelming hospitals
  • Limiting mass gatherings to 10 people or less
  • Increased hand washing
  • A strong recommendation that high-risk Ohioans stay at home as much as possible and avoid places where they are likely to encounter a lot of people
  • A strong recommendation, but not an order, that Ohioans stay at their place of residence when possible
  • Travel restrictions from previous orders are lifted, but residents are encouraged to limit travel outside of Ohio

While the "Ohioans Protecting Ohioans" advisory replaces some orders with “strong recommendations” from the state, it still incorporates all of the previous orders for businesses.

The injunction issued by the Lake County Court Wednesday effectively keeps Acton and the health department from taking action against the gyms listed in the lawsuit.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law issued the following statement:

An Ohio Court of Common Pleas Wednesday morning enjoined the Ohio Governor and director of the Department of Health from “imposing or enforcing penalties solely for non-compliance with the director’s order” against gymnasiums, health clubs, fitness centers, gyms, and workout facilities.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s victory against defendant Amy Acton comes on behalf of 35 independent gyms across the state, who moved to enjoin the Ohio Department of Health from continuing to enforce its criminalization of even safe gym operations, as implemented through the director’s various orders since March.

The ruling by Judge Eugene Lucci of the Lake County Court of Common Pleas explains that private property rights are fundamental rights in Ohio, and that the Ohio Department of Health has both violated those rights and exceeded its own authority in “criminalizing lawful businesses, and imposing strict liability for violations, including severe criminal, civil, and equitable penalties”: “The director has no statutory authority to close all businesses, including the plaintiffs’ gyms . . . She has acted in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner without any procedural safeguards.”

The ruling further excoriates the department of health’s insistence that “one unelected individual could exercise such unfettered power to force everyone to obey impermissibly vague rules without any legislative guidance.”

“Constitutions are written to prevent governments from arbitrarily interfering in citizens’ lives and businesses. On that front, the call to action is clear: the governor and health director may no longer impose their own closures and regulations and write their own criminal penalties to enforce those regulations and closures,” said 1851 Center Executive Director Maurice Thompson. “We remain available to serve those who are caught in the State’s tangled web of unlawful orders.”

The Ohio Department of Health told News 5 that, "we are reviewing the ruling with our legal counsel."

Gov. Mike DeWine's office issued the following statement:

"The ruling affirms that facilities must follow Ohio Department of Health safety protocols to keep patrons and all Ohioans safe and healthy. These facilities were due to open Tuesday anyways. However, our office disagrees with the ruling’s analysis of law."

News 5 has reached out to legal experts for comment.

ABC 9 - WCPO contributed to this report.

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